The Real World

Recently Thomas Kinkade died. Many of you know him as the painter of all those happy scenes of village life or country life in days gone by, with snug cottages nestling in the trees and sending cheerful light from every window and warm smoke from every chimney. Just looking at them makes you feel that the families inside are beckoning you to join them beside a cozy fire. Kinkade was known as the painter of light, because although his technique was not exceptional in other respects, he obviously had made light a special study, so that in every picture he could give it a presence helping to create a vision of happiness.

Is the real world like a painting of Kinkade? No, certainly not. Did such a world ever exist? Yes, to some degree. There was a time in Britain and America and perhaps in a few other places like Switzerland and Moravia when village life did not differ greatly from a picture of Kinkade. Wherever Bible-believing churches under godly pastors were a major force in shaping values, many people had a decency and a simple virtue that you rarely find in our day, and good people are, generally speaking, happy people. After the Frenchmen Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the mid-nineteenth century, he wrote a classic work entitled Democracy in America. He himself was by no means an evangelical Christian, but he said that the strength of America lay in its churches.

What is the real world like today? I saw a picture recently that tells much about today’s world. It was a picture of an African boy selling rat kabobs. Some people might have seen it as proof that black Africans are savage beasts with no better sense than to eat rats. But no, in a world of free choice, they would prefer McDonald’s as much as anyone else. The only reason that Africans eat rats is that they are hungry, so hungry that they will eat anything. In the middle of 2011, a severe famine struck Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, leaving between 50,000 and 100,000 dead, most of them children. The aid agencies were slow to respond effectively because famines have become so commonplace in Africa that it was difficult to solicit another round of donations.

A world of starvation and suffering—that’s the real world created by the Fall of man. Even for the people of God, even for the believers who lived generations ago in the relatively unspoiled culture of rural America and Britain, life was not easy. Back in 1966, when I visited the graves of my ancestors in the village of Herne, England, I was shocked to see how many children were buried alongside their parents. My grandfather’s youngest sister had previously sent me a copy of the birth and death records in her parents’ family Bible. Over a span of twenty-six years my great grandparents, named William and Elizabeth, had thirteen children, but only five lived to be adults. Five died between the ages of six months and a year. One died at seventeen months, another at age five, and another at age six. The parents suffered the death of a child in 1868, 1870, 1873, 1876, 1879, two in 1886, and one in 1887. Do you think they were hardened to grief and indifferent to death? I doubt it. My grandfather Joseph, William’s son, loved little children. When he was about eighty, he lived with us for a while, and I remember him going out to the backyard to play softball with me. I imagine his father loved children too. Even the short entries in the family Bible hint at his grief. A little girl died in 1876. Two years later, another little girl was born, and he gave her the same name, as if the first had been restored to him, but the second little girl died also.

This is a world of trouble and sorrow, often compared to a vale of tears. We as modern Americans are somewhat sheltered from the real world, because we are wealthy beyond anything our forefathers could have imagined and because medical advances have reduced our pain to less than normal human experience and prolonged our lives beyond their appointed limits. But how do we spend our greater share of easy life? Many Americans have their heads floating in clouds of fantasy retailed by the media.

Yet have our privileges made us happy? Have they delivered us from trouble and sorrow? I think not. Just look at the most privileged, at people like the artist Kinkade. The enterprises spun off from his work grossed about $100 million per year. He if anyone should have been happy if the tickets to happiness are health and wealth. But he died relatively young, at age 54, from an overdose of alcohol and valium, two substances people rely on to relieve unhappiness.

Most of you have also known real trouble and sorrow, and any of you who have been spared until now will someday know it too. So let us look at what the Bible teaches about handling adversity in our lives. Let us read 1 Peter 1:6. “Temptations” can also be read as “trials” or “troubles.” Though we are suffering many temptations, we have cause to rejoice. In what? The reference of “wherein” is to a concept back in verse 5. It is the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Trials and troubles are a normal part of Christian experience. You know what yours have been. Just fill in the blank. And life brings us many moral temptations—temptations to indulge the flesh, to swell up in conceit, to grasp for material things, to follow selfish ideas instead of godly wisdom, to sink into discouragement, or even to complain against God in the midst of hardship. It would not be healthy to reckon or even to remember all the bad things we go through. Except for God’s kindness day by day we could easily sink into a pessimism that expects everything to go wrong. But God is kind to us. To keep life from weighing us down too much, He gives us times of rest and pleasure; He surrounds us with loving friends and family; He places within us His own Holy Spirit, who is a fountain of love, joy, and peace; and He gives us the hope of salvation through Christ.

He wants us when we are going though trouble to remember that it is temporary, that if we endure it patiently without losing our confidence in God and scrapping our commitment to Christ, we will soon come to a glorious future. We will be snatched from this world at the rapture of the living church or at the resurrection of the dead in Christ and enter into an existence of perfect joy forever. That transformation from mortality to immortality is what Peter throughout this passage means by our “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Peter wants us to look forward to our salvation with hope, because hope is what enables us to rejoice even when we are going through trouble. Let me say that again. Hope is what enables us to rejoice even when we are going through trouble. To strengthen our hope, he gives us here in 1 Peter 1 several specific reasons why our future salvation is worth all the trouble we must go through before we receive it, and each reason is a reason to rejoice.

Reasons to Rejoice

1. We can rejoice because our salvation is a work of God (v. 2).

It is a cooperative work of all three divine persons. Each has a unique contribution. The Father planned and authorized it by means of foreknowledge and election. The Spirit makes it happen through sanctification. And the Son died on a cross that He might pay for man’s sin and become the object of man’s faith. Salvation is grounded in the will of God, guaranteed by the love of God, and backed by the power of God. And His will is irresistible, His love is inexhaustible, and His power is incomparable. It is so inconceivably great that He can do or make anything He imagines. Therefore, we can depend on our salvation. There is an old expression, “solid as the Bank of England.” When this comparison was conceived, people could not imagine any human institution less likely to fail. But now it does not inspire nearly so much confidence. How much more failure-proof is any work of God.

2. We can rejoice because God has demonstrated that He can keep His promise of salvation (v. 3).

That proof is the resurrection of Christ. The church today is ho-hum about the Resurrection. Early Christians celebrated it whenever they met, but we give it perfunctory attention only once a year at Easter. Yet valid preaching of the Christian world view cannot omit the proclamation that Jesus rose again. Paul includes the Resurrection in his summary of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-7). Peter teaches us here that the Resurrection should also be prominent in the thoughts of believers as they seek encouragement during hard times. The fact that God has raised one man from the dead assures us that He can raise us as well.

What would a digital recording of our thoughts reveal? A typical teenager mainly thinks about what his friends have said to him, what he has said to his friends, what he wished he had said, and what he will say as soon as he gets a chance. Besides that he may muse upon scenes in the media, or formulate plans for tomorrow, or daydream about the future. But is there anything spiritual on his mind? Very little.

But even those of us with greater maturity, are we any better than the young? With us older folks one preoccupation is how we feel. Some years ago when I was teaching a Sunday School class of seniors, we hosted a class party at our house. After we served the food, the people divided into several small conversational groups, and I went around to them all and listened to what they were discussing. Without exception, they were talking about their medical history. For many younger adults, the issues of childrearing are a dominant concern. All of us worry about money.

But is there anything spiritual on our minds? What would a recording of our thoughts reveal? How much of this embarrassing recording would we have to play before we came to anything we would agree to share with the whole church? How often do we think about the great works of God such as the Resurrection?

3. We can rejoice because our salvation is of great value (v. 4).

It will usher us into an inheritance that is incorruptible. That means, it will never grow old and wear out. It will be as fresh to us after billions of years as it seemed at the beginning. Nothing in this world retains its newness more than a few months or years. But after an eternity has gone by, heaven will still be brand new. Our inheritance will also be undefiled. That means, it will never turn into something evil. It will be absolutely immune to moral decay. What starts out innocent will stay innocent. God’s smile will never become a frown. And our inheritance will not fade away. It will last forever.

To read a good book or hear a great symphony is always a sad experience, because it always comes to an end, and the end is never negotiable. You can’t make the artist’s invention go on. But heaven will be a book without a last chapter and a symphony without a last movement. And our inheritance is reserved for us. No one can take it away. It cannot slip out of our grasp. In no way can we lose it, because the one who has secured our right to it and who guarantees our possession of it is God Himself.

What is it you desire most? If you were granted three wishes, what would they be? When I have asked my students this question, most of their wishes were either some enormous self-indulgence or some grandiose success. They wanted to be a star athlete or receive a million dollars (or now with inflation, a billion dollars). Few of their wishes would not have destroyed them. So I have challenged them to compare what they want with what God will give them. An eternal inheritance will exceed anything in their dreams as much as day exceeds night.

4. We can rejoice because we cannot lose our salvation (v. 5).

It belongs to us because we have faith, and our faith is sustained by the power of God. God leaves us with no grounds for self-congratulation, for our salvation is entirely His work, not ours. He is determined that in heaven there will be none who imagine that they deserved salvation, none who boast of their achievement in gaining eternal life (Eph. 2:8-9). Think how unheavenly it would be to find people in heaven who felt that whereas you barely squeaked in, they qualified by a wide margin, and as a result they were entitled to treat you as an inferior.

5. We can rejoice because our troubles will last only a season (v. 6).

Christ availed Himself of the same comfort (Heb. 12:2-4). Do your troubles seem to grind on forever? We gain a truer perspective when we look backward. The past, instead of getting longer as we grow older, seems to grow shorter. When my granddaughter Katie was about five, she was describing something and called it huge, pronouncing the word correctly. I teased her that she used to say “hooge.” She said, “Grandpa, tell me more stories about when I was a little girl.” To her, something two years before seemed like a long time ago.

The perspective we have later in life is realistic. In fact, the events that seemed to stretch on and on as we went through them lasted but a short time. As a result, something in the past, whether good or bad, seems like yesterday. It seems like yesterday when my wife and I went on dates to the Loop of Chicago. We would ride down on the el train, bum around the museums on the day of free admission, buy genuine Chicago-style hot dogs from a street vendor, and finish the day at Grant Park, where we could hear a free concert by the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra. It seems like yesterday. Maybe it was. In this world, both the good and the bad are quickly over. But in the next world, there will be nothing bad, and the good will last forever.

6. We can rejoice because the result of our trials will be a proven faith (v. 7).

Faith that has been shown genuine is valuable, like refined gold. There are many things whose genuineness is uncertain until they are tested: a restaurant that advertises the best hamburger in the world, or in Kansas, or in Franklin County; the laundry soap that claims to leave clothes the whitest; the book entitled, Treasury of the World’s Funniest Jokes. Talk is cheap. Spiritual talk is cheap. Judas represented himself as an apostle of Jesus. He went about preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. But the lure of money proved that his religion was hollow. Yielding to greed, he went from sin to sin until he committed the worst sin of all—he betrayed Jesus. The trial of his faith exposed his true nature as a puppet of the devil (John 6:70). But the trial of our faith as children of God will prove it to be genuine.

7. We can rejoice because our proven faith will bring praise, and honor, and glory to God (v. 7).

The Westminster Catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Here we learn that the principal way we glorify Him is by showing the results of His grace and mercy toward us. A faith that can stand up to trouble and persecution is God’s doing, and when Christ comes to gather us to Himself, we will praise God for giving us such a faith. Why should that future result of enduring trials motivate us to endure them? Why should it please us to see God receive praise? Because we love Him. At an awards assembly or banquet, the awards that go to my students give pleasure to me as well as well as to them. Why? Because I care about them. If you care about someone, it is only natural to share in their joy. And because I love God, I share in His joy when He is glorified.

8. We can rejoice because if we endure, we will see Christ (vs. 8-9).

Our love for Christ is of such quality that we love Him even now, before we have met Him face to face. Think how remarkable that is. Have you ever loved a human being just as a result of hearing or reading about him? If you read the life of a great man, perhaps an outstanding saint of God like Hudson Taylor, you may come to admire him. Yet the knowledge that you will never know him in the flesh leaves you with no disappointment. Obviously, then, your admiration does not rise to the level of love, for love desires to know the living person. If a young man hears about a beautiful girl of sterling character, he may mull over the possibility of marrying her. But if he never meets her, he is not devastated. His interest does not rise to the level of love. Yet we love Christ though we have never seen Him. If we thought that our separation from Him could never be overcome, we would be devastated. Life would lose its meaning. Troubles would beat us down to a state of despair. We have such an intense longing to meet Him because, by a divine miracle wrought in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we truly love Christ. And the hope of seeing Him at His appearing is one of our strongest motivators to endure trials.

Though we love Him already, we must always seek to love Him more. How is that possible? We must find out as much about Him as we can, because greater love will flow inevitably from greater knowledge. We must study the Gospel accounts of His life. Do you know all that He said and did while He was among us? We must look also at everything that He has made. Of greatest value in prompting us to greater love and worship are His two greatest creations: the physical universe, which displays both His power and supreme intelligence, and His law, which demonstrates both His perfect holiness and love (Psa. 19).

Diligence in the study of Christ leads to “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” And the final end of our rejoicing will be the much greater joy of seeing all our hopes fulfilled, for our souls will surely be saved from destruction and united with Christ forever.

So in conclusion, is there anyone here tonight living in bondage to sadness or trouble or depression? Make the opening verses of 1 Peter your special study. Let God encourage you through what you read. Here you find no less than eight reasons to rejoice. Rehearse them, meditate upon them, memorize them. Let them filter deep into your soul and reshape your world view. Be a rejoicing Christian, for rejoicing is the secret to joy. The more you praise God for His goodness, you will not only increase His joy; you will increase your joy as well. The darkness around you will dissolve, and you will see only the light of heaven.

Who is the true painter of light? It is Jesus Christ. All light and all the happiness created by the presence of light come from Him.